“We are transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma
“God is not a vending machine” (seen on a church sign in Lampasas, TX)
I saw/heard both of these quotes on a trip a while back and they’ve been hanging out in my brain since then. Pollan has perhaps given us the most succinct of eucharistic theologies in this little statement, and the church sign unpacks it through a cultural phenomenon in relation to our food.
In the process of eating, we take in the body of the world, the dirt, water, air and sun contributing to grow plants, some of which are eaten by animals. In turn we consume the plants and animals to nourish our bodies. We are at the top of the food chain so the cycle ends with us. There is no one to benefit from our consumption. Because we are at the top it is our natural obligation to give back in order to keep the thing going.
The Eucharist is a sacred ritual in which we take the body and blood of Christ into ourselves in order that we might be transformed into his likeness. The form that this ritual takes is a meal of bread and wine. These are the products of grain and fruit (Notice that the Eucharist is vegetarian. Probably only for practical reasons, but nonetheless, interesting). The consumption of Christ is also a consumption of the body of the world. The incarnation seems to insure this. Consuming the body and blood connects us to the earth and each other. How could we make this sacred ritual mean this again?
One way, I think, is to use real bread and real wine. While I would never limit the Spirit to a particular form of Eucharist, I do think that the act of making bread and wine, or whatever the elements are, connects us to the ritual and its meaning in a powerful way. If we use wafers or hermetically sealed cups, then we should include in our prayer all of the lives and materials that it took to produce that convenient meal.
The idea of the all-in-one hermetically sealed communion package brings us to the idea that “God is not a vending machine.” The necessity of this sign indicates that some people treat God as a vending machine, a deity who dispenses blessing and spiritual wisdom on command. Doesn’t it also signify a connection between our consumer lifestyles and our notion of God. Could it be that the way we live our lives impacts our theology? The reduction of communion to a consumer activity in which the elements of the ritual are essentially expendable indicates something about our understanding of the God behind this ritual.
If we understood what we did both when we eat and when we commune, we would think twice about many of the ways we partake of meals and the Lord’s Supper.
Already questions and objections are entering my mind, but I want to let you voice them. What are your thoughts? Should Eucharist be SOLE (Sustainable Organic Local Ethical)? What about contextualization? What is appropriate for communion in various cultures including ours? Where do you draw lines?